Q & A With Raptors Rookie Solomon Alabi

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cMike Ulmer - raptors.com
July 5, 2010

Selected 50th overall in the 2010 NBA draft, Nigerian Solomon Alabi arrives in Toronto after a draft night trade with the Dallas Mavericks.

Alabi was 15 when he was discovered by Raptors assistant general manager Masai Ujiri. Both are natives of Zaria, population over one million. Zaria is best known for its splendid Ahmadu Bello University, the second largest in all of Africa.

Observers at Florida State University, Alabi’s home for the last two years, said he was popular enough to run for Student Council president. At seven-foot-one, the 22-year-old cuts an impressive figure. He is equally impressive when he begins to speak. English is his fourth language.

We sent senior writer Mike Ulmer to speak to the player who, along with six-foot-10 power forward Ed Davis, is expected to anchor a tougher Raptors interior. They talked about the CN Tower, rice and the sneakers he wore to church.

Mike Ulmer: Your dad was a police officer, is that right?

Solomon Alabi: My dad was a little strict. He warned me if I ever get in a fight or did any bad stuff, he would lock me up with the bad guys and they would beat me up in the cell. I never got in a fight, never got in any trouble.

MU: If you had found trouble would you have been a fighter or a runner?

SA: A runner. I don’t fight.

MU: Tell me about meeting Masai?

SA: I was excited because I had never played real full-court basketball. Masai had a camp and he saw I was interested. He talked to me about how basketball was huge in North America. He brought gear to the camp. And shoes... I felt like I was in the NBA after getting those shoes. I was so excited. I wanted to play basketball everywhere in Zaria where I come from. I wore them to church, to basketball, everywhere.

MU: What’s your favourite Nigerian food?

SA: I like Yam, and I like rice in stew.

MU: What about your favorite North American food?

SA: I like steak, and pizza.

MU: What’s the one thing you want people to say about you after you are gone?

SA: I want people to say I was a great guy and I gave back to the community. I want them to say ‘he used basketball to help others.’

MU: Does playing soccer as a boy give you better footwork for basketball?

SA: For me, playing soccer helped me in my ability to run the floor and move. I played soccer long before basketball.

MU: Why will you wear number 50?

SA: That’s my draft number. David Robinson was a great player, he wore 50.

MU: Turn around, take a look at the CN Tower. Have you ever been that far up in a building before?

SA: No, man. Besides being in a plane, that’s too high for me.

MU: Were your mom and dad very tall?

SA: My dad is like six-foot-one, my mom is five-foot-eleven.

MU: How could a six-foot-one and a five-foot eleven turn into a seven-foot-one?

SA: My mom’s dad is like six-foot-eight. I think that’s where it came from.

MU: Was there always enough to eat in your house?

SA: Sometimes there was not enough in the bowl.

MU: Did you realize there wasn’t enough?

SA: Sometimes.

MU: When did you know?

SA: When I was like 14-15, that’s when I knew.

MU: And how did you know?

SA: The way my mom had to work hard. My dad, sometimes they wouldn’t pay their salary for like three months. They are supposed to pay them every month. My Mom had to struggle from her store and sometimes she couldn’t and she had to find way to come up with money to buy food for the next day or night. We had to depend on tomorrow or the next day so she could make money to feed us.

MU: When you are hungry as a kid, do you ever forget it as an adult?

SA: Yes. I think you forget. I used to eat a lot of mangoes. We have mango trees. Sometimes, I would just go play soccer. We used to forget about food. Sometimes it was just better to play.

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